It’s rare for me to Google a play before reviewing it, but I did it for “Once Upon a Mattress” to see if my suspicions about the 1959 Broadway production were true.
I found this on Wikipedia: “Initial reviews of the play were mixed, but critics and actors alike were surprised by the show’s enduring popularity.”
I suspect its popularity was due to one thing, the star power of Carol Burnett. Minus a lead actor with Burnett’s magnetism, it’s a run-of-the-mill musical, entertaining but not extraordinary.
The Tacoma Musical Playhouse production doesn’t have Carol Burnett, but it does have Emma Deloye as Princess Winnifred the Woebegone and Jeremy Lynch as Prince Dauntless the Drab, and there’s a lot of star power between those two.
I might also point out that the cleverness of those names, plus others such as King Sextimus the Silent (Joe Woodland) and the absurdity of Princess Winnifred wanting to be called Fred, are evidence of the sneaky little comic touches writers Jay Thompson, Dean Fuller and Marshall Barer slipped in to elevate “Mattress” a step or two above the mundane.
Based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, “The Princess and the Pea,” the musical tells the story of Prince Dauntless, who is dying to find a bride. But his mother, the thoroughly despicable Queen Aggravain (Deanna Martinez), insists he can marry only a woman who is a true princess – meaning she must not only be of royal blood but also must be of princess quality.
To prove she is of princess quality, she must pass tests devised by the queen and her minion, Wizard (John Miller) — tests that are impossible to pass.
Surely telling what test Princess Winnifred must past will not be a spoiler. It is a test of sensitivity, to see whether she can feel a single pea place under the bottom mattress of a stack of 20 mattresses.
Minstrel (Tony Williams) sets the personal and fairy-tale mood of the play by opening it with a sweet song as he plays both the narrator and a character in the story.
Then the curtain opens on an elaborate castle set designed by Bruce Haasl as the prince, Lady Larken (Ashley Koon) and the ensemble sing the comical “An Opening for a Princess.” The song basically announces that the kingdom is advertising for potential princesses to audition for the right to marry Prince Dauntless.
Then comes a romantic love song, “In a Little While,” between Lady Larken and Sir Harry (Josh Wingerter).
All the principle actors are strong in their roles. Minstrel, King Sextimus and Josh Anderman as Jester make for a fun comic trio plotting against the queen and for the prince and princess.
Anderman performs some hilarious physical feats on a dance number, and the king, who has no voice, speaks delightfully via charades. Some of his facial expressions bring to mind Tim Conway.
Deloye is funny and strong as the princess. Her rendition of “Shy” is one of the best things in the show, along with her ridiculous gyrations atop the stack of mattresses.
Finally, Lynch wonderfully plays the prince as a hapless, dimwitted and lovable man-child.
“Once Upon a Mattress” is a silly bit of comic fluff that might not be the best thing TMP has every done, but it’s enjoyable and skillfully produced and acted; love is triumphant, and the evil doer gets her comeuppance.
Check Alec’s blog at alecclayton.blogspot.com for reviews of other area theatrical productions.
Once Upon a Mattress
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 17.
Where: Tacoma Musical Playhouse, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
Information: 253-565-6867; http://www.tmp.org